Author : Morrow Brady
Our first return mission from Mars was a complete success. The journey to the red planet, the orbit to surface transfer, the vast exploration and the return trip – all went perfectly to plan. The astronauts returned to ticker tape parades and talk shows across the globe.
However, microscopic stowaways on board the return spaceship proved to be resistant to the standard decontamination procedures and once a full understanding emerged, they had already begun to flourish and spread. Earth was the perfect nursery.
As soon as it was discovered they were asexual and were constantly ejecting offspring from pores along their carapaces, the nukes were launched. The shockwaves from the detonations only served to disperse them further and within 18 months, technology began to falter as their preference for anything electronic became evident. The tiny invaders excreted iron dust, which rusted immediately and coated everything in red – earning them the name Rusty.
Year upon year, Rusty grew larger in size and by the third year, though kitten sized, Rusty’s omnivorous appetite was insatiable. State funding, rewarded citizens with food for dead Rustys and freely issued barbaric clubs. However, as soon it was thought a zone had been cleared, Rusty would emerge from the cracks.
After six years, only a few insular island communities remained clear of Rusty. Rusty always found a way in though. When the mobile incinerators – eaten from the inside out by engorged dog size Rustys – began to litter the streets, martial law came into effect. Piecemeal repairs became the new street appeal as homeowners did what they could to patch the large holes in their houses. Horror stories emerged of pets, small children and itinerants vanishing overnight.
A decade had passed and as soon as the army’s arsenal ran out, soldiers simply dispersed. Sofa sized Rustys were now favouring concrete, causing high-rise buildings to collapse without warning. Cities became too dangerous and with the countryside barren after Rusty’s first wave, suburbia – with its enclaves and community driven action teams – became the last hope. A place where vigilant eyes came together on the street to promptly defend what little remained. A tribal society.
Fifteen years passed and we ceased to care what year it was and just tried to survive day to day. The air tasted like gritty blood as Rusty continued to transform our blue planet into mining town red. Rusty’s hunger turned to suck the marrow from what remained on our planet’s surface. Survivors clung to life in make-shift castles made from detritus.
Twenty years on, we learnt to build from Rusty’s excreta. It was the only thing Rusty wouldn’t eat. With food scarce, we learn that if you pried apart Rusty’s hardened outer shell, deep within an intricate biology, there was a purple organ, that didn’t kill you. It tasted like chalky escargot.
With the land all but barren, Rusty headed to the seas. Like a receding blood tsunami, Rusty dined at the tidal break, ingesting seawater and sea life alike until he digested the ocean to the horizon. In time, the world’s deepest underwater trench became the last river and was filled with engorged whale size Rustys.
Three decades on and there were few of us left. Having eaten all food sources, Rusty began to shrink. When we thought harmony had been reached, the spaceships arrived to reveal the true masters. It took them very little effort to finish us off. The Mars-forming biology they planted three decades earlier had worked perfectly.
Here in their zoo, there aren’t many humans left.
Author : Rick Tobin
“Everyone remembers their first time—the feel, shudder, anticipation, sweat and wonder if you would die in the middle of penetration.” Emanuel Mumford stared into Stacy Croft’s face, watching for twitches or blush.
“What was yours, Captain?” She moved closer, ensuring live audiences would miss nothing.
“It was a blue giant we can’t see from Earth. That’s not important, but watching fusion balls freeze in globular time warps, like blue goldfish suspended in a bowl…exhilarating.” Mumford held his hands out in a circle for emphasis.
“And core entry? The danger is always there, so you’ve told us. Didn’t we lose a ship ten years ago?” Emanuel’s neck reddened. His face paled.
“I’d just transferred from Atlantis. She was my first assignment. We didn’t have the experience then to detect nova predecessors. There were no Q-wave monitors. Three hundred brave men, women and children lost.” He paused and then turned hard into the camera. “But I’m here to tell you all tonight, all of you on Earth…we, the Collectors, love our system, our planets, and our home world. We worship our Sol. It is our God of nourishment and survival. Returning live plasma to Her center through interspatial transfer elevators has kept Her alive for millions of years, long after the rogue dwarf star threatened to rip Sol apart in the First Empire.”
“Glory be to the First Empire,” Stacy urged, looking back to the audience.
“Glory be,” Emanuel repeated.
“And the plasma tube you showed us yesterday…it’s so much like a snake or some giant parasite reaching into the heart of a star. Do you imagine the star feels pain?”
“Hardly,” Emanuel replied, smiling. “It has no more feeling than your camera or a piece of space junk. Our own Sol is not conscious, but that we make it so in our love for its light and power. No, I sense no remorse when the plasma vacuum begins transporting the raw materials back home.”
“There must be some star systems that are advanced enough to resist. Can you discuss that?”
The Captain paused, considering his oath regarding classified information. He had been briefed. “Yes, there have been some cases of resistance. When the residents finally realize we are not destroying their source, but rather just taking a small part, they usually accept and leave us alone. After all, we learned about this technology from those who first came to Sol, before the rogue dwarf arrived. They gave us this ability in exchange for our Sol’s offering, in case we would ever need to restore our beloved.”
She pressed, “But haven’t there been encounters that were violent?”
“Stacy, I’ve come here tonight to explain that we are seeking new crews and new defense force volunteers to join our space families. That means risking much for our home system, but it is our highest calling. That may mean defending our ships and our purpose. We will always seek the peaceful path, but we will not have our path broken.”
“Captain, one of our viewers has asked me to have the name of your ship explained. Can you help?”
“Yes. Once a Captain has served five years, he or she can rename their vessel. I chose Nosferatu because I love the ancient myth of the vampire; however, in our case, we do not harm the one from whom we feed. We bring life to the one we love. Blessed be our Sol.”
Author : Sam Larson
Dr. Oliver, tall and with thick, perpetually smudged glasses perched on the end of his long nose, leaned over Seth’s back and pushed the tip of his forceps into a gash on Seth’s shoulder while Seth, stripped to the waist and streaked with sweat, moaned and squirmed on the examination table.
“This is the last one, Seth.” Dr. Oliver placed a hand on Seth’s back where his latex gloves smeared the blood oozing from the boy’s shoulders. He gave the forceps a sharp jerk and Seth squealed. The forceps clanked loudly into a waiting steel bowl and, still holding Seth down, Dr. Oliver reached for the antiseptic, pouring it sloppily across the boy’s upper back and mopping it with a wad of cotton. Seth’s shoulders were pocked with a constellation of scars, some nearly faded and some fresh, red, and tender. Seth lay limp on the bed and waited, sniffling. Dr. Oliver bandaged Seth’s shoulders tightly and offered a hand to help the boy sit up on the bed. Seth snatched his arm away from Dr. Oliver and cast a furious glance up at the raggedy adult. Tears ran down Seth’s face and angry red rimmed his obsidian eyes, a rich solid black like India ink.
Dr. Oliver sat on a stool in front of the examining table, removed his stained latex gloves, and tossed them towards the waste bin. Reaching long fingers into the pocket of his shirt he dug out a crumpled envelope of tobacco and a collection of tattered of rolling papers. He carefully splinted the torn rolling paper with more scraps dug from his shirt pocket until he had a crooked cigarette pinched between his fingers. Dr. Oliver lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply, the layers of rolling paper flaring and smoking in the still air of his office.
“You were very brave today, Seth.” The boy sat hunched on the edge of the bed, sniffling and wiping tears from his eyes.
“Hurts,” mumbled Seth, “Hurts lots.”
“I know it does, Seth. But we’ll make you better.” Dr. Oliver stood, flipped his cigarette at the trash can, and walked to a large wardrobe in the corner of his office. He rummaged through a pile of clothes and emerged with a large, faded men’s shirt. Back at the examining table Dr. Oliver handed Seth the shirt and helped him struggle his way into it, rolling the cuffs when they fell down past Seth’s wrists.
“Now, be careful with your bandages for the next couple of days. And come see me if you need my help. You know I’m always home.” Seth rolled onto his side and scrambled off of the table, catching his breath with a soft hiss when the impact with the floor made his wounds sting. He hesitated near the examining table, staring bashfully at his feet and fiddling with one of the buttons on his shirt. “Out you go, Seth. Tell your mother hello for me.”
Laying a gentle hand on Seth’s back Dr. Oliver ushered his young patient out the door and into the deepening evening, watching him walk down the street until the boy had rounded the corner. Dr. Oliver swung the door shut and secured it with a pair of heavy deadbolts. On his way back into the examining room he gathered up the steel bowl from its spot on the bedside table and upended it where Seth had been laying. Dr. Oliver picked up the forceps from where they had fallen and gently stirred the ragged fistful of white, blood-speckled feathers that lay scattered across the examination table.
Author : Wayne Adams
Ralph Church received a bonus today. It was his reward for being the top salesman of the quarter. He was proud of his achievement.
“You ready to hit the road again, Ralph?” His manager Bruce Clark asked.
“You bet,” Ralph answered, “There’s nothing that stirs my juice more than being gung ho on sales.”
“Someday, you’ll have my job,” Bruce said.
“No way. I have to have the freedom of the road.”
“We’ll persuade you.”
“Ok boss, I gotta go.”
Ralph shook hands with Bruce and walked out of the office. He entered the admin section where he heard accolades of “Get’em tiger,” and “You’re the man!”
He stepped out into the hallway and looked in both directions. He checked his watch. It was almost time for the portal to open. He rushed to the janitor’s closet. Any second now. He opened the door and stepped into the darkened closet.
A blue halo of light appeared. Ralph stepped through it. He was in. The light appeared every 14 days. Perfect for him to live 2 separate lives in 2 separate universes.
He checked his watch again. Brenda would be outside waiting for him out in the parking lot with the girls.
He stepped outside and there she was in all her glory. Brenda was beautiful as always with her blonde hair and glowing skin. Just like his other wife.
He rushed to the driver’s side and kissed her with a kiss that could rival any movie.
“Hi handsome,” she said.
“Hey beautiful,” he said, “Daddy’s home. What’s for dinner tonight?”
“Me,” she said with a dreamy look in her eyes, “Oh dinner,” she realized what she had said and hoped the girls didn’t hear her answer, “It’s your favorite. Spaghetti with meat balls.”
“How’s my two good looking daughters,” he asked Brandi twleve and Cindy ten.
“Daddy!” They said in unison.
He stepped into the passenger side and sat down.
“Do you have a dessert planned for tonight?” He coyly asked, looking at the girls hoping they wouldn’t understand.
“Oh for sure,” she said with a wink.
Ralph spent 2 glorious weeks with his family on this side of the portal. One morning he was dressing in the bedroom. Brenda was in bed watching him.
“My man,” she cooed softly.
Ralph smiled at her. He was the luckiest man in both universes.
“Do you have to go poopsie?” she asked with a purr.”
“Duty calls my sweets,” He said, thinking of his other wife Sarah in the alternate universe.
“I’ll be waiting for you,” she said.
“Time to go beautiful.”
He crawled on the bed and planted a huge kiss on her. If a microphone had been nearby it would have rattled the windows.
Ralph entered the company office and once again he was a celebrity with the staff. He said goodbye to his boss and walked out into the hallway. He looked at this watch. Almost time. No one was around. He opened the janitor’s closet. There it was. The blue light. He closed the door and stepped into the light. Seconds later he was in the alternate Earth.
He knew that outside, in the parking lot, Sarah and the girls would be waiting for him with open arms.
He didn’t think life could get any better than this.
Author : Gray Blix
It had been the perfect plan. Throw spitballs at the substitute English teacher, get sent to the assistant principal, spend an hour after school in detention, and walk home in peace. For once, he would make it through a day at Central High without being pummeled by the school bully and his gang of five. And the plan was working.
The hallway was empty. He didn’t head for the front doors, of course. Billy might be waiting at the bottom of the steps. Instead, he took a side exit and walked towards the gate to 12th Street. But half way there he saw the gate was locked. Could he climb over that chain link fence, at least twice his height? No. It might have been built to keep people out, but it served to keep him in. He’d have to use the front doors after all. Turning around, he saw Billy and his gang approaching. They split up to cut off his escape routes. Two of them came ahead to to grab him, one on each arm, and hold him for Billy.
He was in a panic as Billy’s face filled his field of vision. He felt his heart pounding and heard his quick breaths and the hiss of escaping atmosphere on one side and a rush of air filling the vacuum on the other. Hoses and cables detached and he felt a mild shock, which awakened him from a deep sleep. Arising, he bumped his head on the lid, which was opening slowly, and tried to remember what he’d been dreaming. As always, he could not.
“You have visitors,” a soft voice intoned.
Climbing out of the pod unsteadily, he was momentarily chilled and confused. Realizing that he was completely naked, he donned a one-piece jump suit hanging by the opening to his chamber and slid his feet into a pair of slippers. As he warmed, the voice said, “Follow the arrow,” which had appeared on the floor and begun moving out of the chamber and down the hall. He saw no one as he followed the arrow past other chambers and through open doors which closed behind him. Finally, he entered a room in which two people sat at a table. He sat on the opposite side.
“My, but you have grown,” he heard himself say to his daughter.
“Why don’t you have any hair, daddy,” the girl replied.
He knew that. He closed his eyes and remembered. The voice had told him to rub a cream all over his body that first day and then to shower all the hair away. He had watched it go down the drain, never to return. Then he had been dried by blasts of warm air, after which he had followed the arrow to the medical…
“Did you HEAR me, daddy?”
“Yes. Hair. ‘Nobody here to impress, no need to bother with hair,’ the voice told me, so they, or he, well, actually I…”
“You look well,” his wife offered, helpfully. “better than you did before.”
It was true. The combination of nutritional infusions, along with drugs and electrical stimulation, kept his body trim and toned.
“Was it the same voice that talks to us, daddy?”
“I guess so. I’ve only ever heard the one voice here.”
“Welcome to Acme Detention,” it had said in its soothing way to the small group of visitors just minutes before. “This ultra secure and fully automated facility houses 1,984 inmates, all sentenced to life without parole, in a hygienic and safe environment. Acme does not punish. It merely encourages reflection and contemplation.”